Observations and comments about state government by State Representative Robert W. Pritchard.
District Office 815-748-3494 or E-Mail to bob@pritchardstaterep.com

May 21, 2018
In This Issue:
Ø  Governor Announces Opportunity Zones
Ø  Illinois Tourism’s Steady Growth
Ø  Government Severance Payments to be Limited 
Ø  Legislation Seeks to Make Higher Education More Affordable
Ø  More Graduates Achieve Their Goal
Ø  Basic Skills Test Adds to Teacher Shortage
Ø  Encouraging Youth Involvement in Government

Governor Announces Opportunity Zones
Our local area has been approved for 2 of the 327 Governor-selected, Illinois Opportunity Zones under the Federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.  All total, 1,305 qualifying low-income census tracts were available for selection in Illinois, of which only 25 percent could be nominated by the Governor for inclusion in the program to support economic growth and investment.
According to the federal legislation, Opportunity Zones present an opportunity for private, tax-free investment in low-income areas with economic need.  The Zones selected in our area include southeast Ogle County and the communities of Hillcrest, Rochelle and Creston.  The other area selected focuses on Northern Illinois University and extends west to Nelson Road and north to Rich Road.
Selection for the zones included such factors as the rates of poverty, crime and unemployment.  The Governor’s selections included 85 counties and limited the number of zones per county.  There is obviously a lot of poverty in large cities, but I hope this program will also help our rural areas and small towns increase economic activity, investment and job growth. 

Illinois Tourism’s Steady Growth
You can find people wanting to leave Illinois but there is a growing number who find value from spending time here.  Our state has a lot to offer, and tourists have noticed.  Just last year The Illinois Office of Tourism reported that nearly 114 million people visited the State on vacation.  This is a significant increase of over one million people from the number of tourists reported for the previous year. 
The domestic leisure market makes up 83 percent of the visitors, compared to the 17 percent that traveled to Illinois for business.  The increase in tourism has also given the State’s economy a boost.  Domestic and international travelers spent $39.5 billion in Illinois in 2017.  In DeKalb County alone nearly $100 million is spent by tourists.
In addition to added revenue, tourism has supported 335,500 jobs, a notable increase from years prior.  These numbers make the success of the tourism industry a vital part of the State’s economy.
New marketing initiatives have helped show what Illinois has to offer and encourage Northern Illinois residents to travel in-state instead of heading to Wisconsin or Michigan for vacation.  Illinois has great parks, lakes and rivers, museums and entertainment like offered at the Egyptian Theatre in DeKalb.
The website, EnjoyIllinois.com, has also been updated to help draw in interest.  Looking ahead, the Bicentennial is expected to draw more visitors through the ongoing celebrations and events.  There’s much to see and do in the Land of Lincoln.

Government Severance Payments to be Limited
A bill is moving through the House that would limit the ability of units of government to offer “golden parachutes” to employees.  SB3604 responds to a number of cases in the last few years where colleges, universities and municipalities have provided generous employment packages, lavish spending accounts, and lucrative severance agreements.  For example, in 2015, the Trustees at the College of DuPage approved a $763,000 severance package for their departing President.
The bill, which passed the Senate unanimously, states severance pay may not exceed more than 20 weeks of compensation, and prohibits severance pay when the employee in question has been fired for misconduct.
This bill makes sense to average workers who often receive little to no out-placement or transition compensation when released by an employer.  In addition, several other states have already adopted such policies, including Minnesota, California, Florida and Idaho. 
Among the opposition to the bill is the International City, County Management Association (ICMA).  The group believes that limiting severance packages would undermine the ability of Illinois communities to attract and retain talented individuals for government positions.  Appointed city managers, presidents and department heads serve at the pleasure of an elected body and are not always evaluated for their performance.  Because of this, they could be terminated at any time a board meets or after an election when a new board is seated.
The ICMA argues that hiring someone under such “political” conditions requires additional compensation to cover time while the person finds another job.  They feel it will be harder for units of government to hire the “best” person under the limitations proposed in the bill.

Observations and comments about state government by State Representative Robert W. Pritchard. District Office 815-748-3494 or E-Mail to bob@pritchardstaterep.com

May 14th, 2018
In This Issue:
·     Working Groups Making Progress
·     Illinois Secures Federal Medicaid Waiver
·     Votes Still Lacking for Equal Rights Amendment
·     Sycamore Park District Awarded Grant
·     Belvidere Firefighters Honored
·     County Fair Money Released
·     Middle School Art Displayed at the Capitol
·     Congratulation to all the Graduates

Working Groups Making Progress

Considerable time is being invested by two bipartisan, bicameral working groups toward crafting a budget framework and making Illinois colleges and universities more attractive to students. With three weeks left in the scheduled spring session, the groups need to reach agreement soon.

I am one of 18 members seeking a framework for the FY2019 budget. This includes reaching agreement on not only available revenue but also policies regarding such things as pensions, employee healthcare, spending levels for agencies and programs, paying unpaid bills, and revenue sharing with local units of government.

The group is committed to crafting a full-year budget that can pass the legislature by the end of May. To do so will require compromise from all sides and agreement among legislative leaders. Following the meeting Thursday, I am still optimistic we can reach the goal.

The 12-member Higher Education Working Group on which I serve has been focused on increasing student enrollment in Illinois institutions, and reducing the cost of higher education compared with out-of-state institutions. Discussion and testimony helped narrow the ideas and legislation is being drafted that includes more student financial aid, reducing institution costs, making college applications easier, and coordination between colleges and universities.

Both groups meet again on Tuesday.

Illinois Secures Federal Medicaid Waiver

After waiting two years, Illinois has finally received federal permission to begin pilot programs to treat drug abuse, opioid addiction and other behavioral health issues under the Medicaid program. Governor Rauner said the 1115 Medicaid waiver will allow $2 billion in funding to be used for 10 pilot programs over the next five years that will link behavioral health with physical health treatments.

Beginning July 1st, these programs will include:

· Short-term substance use treatment at certain inpatient and residential facilities.

· Withdrawal management services, including medication and intake/discharge at a facility.

· Home visits for up to five years for women who have a new-born baby exhibiting drug withdrawal symptoms. A growing number of babies suffer from their mother’s use of opioids or other drugs during pregnancy.

· Services to help recipients find and keep a job, including job coaching and transportation.

· Intensive in-home services to stabilize behavior that may lead to a crisis, hospitalization or residential care.

This federal Medicaid waiver will give a huge boost to behavioral health services and focus on outcomes instead of the volume of services offered.

Votes Still Lacking for Equal Rights Amendment
Since the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was first proposed some 46 years ago, Illinois has included nearly all of its provisions in state law. Yet, advocates would like to see Illinois become the 37th state to ratify the amendment and flocked to the capitol last week to make their case.

Proponents argue the ERA would outlaw sex discrimination and extend all constitutional rights equally regardless of sex. They are empowered by the current national women’s rights movement and incidents of sexual harassment. Many would also like to see the federal government given more power to enforce anti-discrimination.

Opponents resist this expansion of federalism and argue approximately 800 federal laws would be affected including some that give special consideration to women. They also argue the ERA would overturn restrictions on abortions and require public funding for those seeking abortions. Some courts in states where the ERA was incorporated into the state’s constitutions have upheld this view.

The Illinois legislature failed to approve the ERA in 1982 and bills introduced in recent years have failed to be called for a vote in both chambers. The amendment appears to still lack the needed votes for passage.

Sycamore Park District Awarded Grant
The Illinois Department of Transportation announced their 2018 Transportation Enhancement Program awards last week and the Sycamore Park District was among the 53 recipients. The district will receive nearly $1.7 million to extend the Great Western Trail bike and running path.

IDOT received nearly $36 million in federal funding to enhance bicycle, pedestrian and streetscape projects across the state. The agency believes that by investing in local communities, it will contribute to the state’s transportation system as a whole. The Sycamore project specifically addresses a local need while contributing to safe travel and increasing quality of life and enjoyment of the area.

IDOT received 218 applications for projects worth an estimated $252 million for this year’s funding allotment. You can view all project recipients here. The next application period for funding projects will be during the fall of 2019.

Belvidere Firefighters Honored

The State Fire Marshall presented the Medal of Valor to three firefighters from Belvidere and five more from the city received Firefighter Excellence Awards in ceremonies at the capitol last week. The awards were made for displaying exceptional bravery or heroism in the face of danger while performing their duties as a firefighter.

I had the opportunity to visit with the men about the fire incident in 2017 that earned them the recognition. They responded to a 3-story multi-family structure fire that quickly engulfed the building in smoke and fire. Two dozen occupants were able to flee the building, some jumping from windows; but 9 were trapped and had to be rescued by ladder or carried unconscious from the building.

Lieutenant Shawn Schadle and Firefighters Aaron Pihl and Jeff Vaughan were awarded Medals of Valor. Captain Mark Zumbragel and Firefighters Mark Beck, James Kriebs, Jason Swanson and Nicolas Thornton received Excellence Awards. Congratulations to these men for their demonstrations of bravery and thanks to all who continually serve and protect us.

Fortunately fire incidents as the one in Belvidere don’t happen often. Nevertheless, the Firefighters must be trained, physically fit, equipped with the necessary tools, and ready to respond in seconds.

Shown with the Belvidere Fire Department honorees were Fire Chief Al Hyser (second from left) and Mayor Mike Chamberlain (second from the right). 

County Fair Money Released
At long last and with repeated urging from me and other legislators, the Governor finally released the appropriated funds to support county fairs. While funding was appropriated, there had been insufficient cash to pay the local fair associations.

Agriculture is the leading industry in Illinois. County fairs provide an opportunity to demonstrate the skills of animal husbandry and crop production, new technology, arts and crafts, and much more. Fairs are a social gathering and provide entertainment. According to a University of Illinois Extension Study, county fairs generate $170 million in economic activity for the state and help support over 100 jobs and thousands of volunteers.

Middle School Art Displayed at the Capitol
The entries in my annual Middle School Art Contest were on display last week in the Capitol. Thousands of visitors got to see not only the creative talent of our local youth but also the benefits of art education in our schools. My thanks go to students and teachers at Hinckley-Big Rock, Burlington Central and DeKalb for participating.

The contest winner was Adrina Middono, a 7th grader from Hinckley-Big Rock Middle School and runner up honors went to Sadie Marks, an 8th Grader from Huntley Middle School, DeKalb.

Art encourages focus, concentration, creativity, attention to detail and hand-eye coordination. Art also teaches problem solving, follow-through and social interaction.

Congratulations to all the Graduates

During May and June, families across Illinois celebrate student education achievements at ceremonies and parties. It’s been a number of years since I received a college degree but I took the stage earlier this month to accept an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters Degree from Aurora University President Rebecca Sherrick for my legislative work in education.

It’s important to remember that education is life-long and gaining knowledge and skills are the tools for progress and public service. Congratulations and best wishes to all those reaching an education milestone.

Have a great week and call my District Office to share your opinions or if I can be of assistance.